Posted March 21, 2011 11:36 am by with 3 comments

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Remember the dustup that Groupon created wit their Super Bowl ads? Most people felt they were offensive while others saw the as being brilliant. In the end, Groupon decided to cave to the majority (in other words, those who pay Groupon’s bills), remove the ads and apologize for their lapse in judgment.

Andrew Mason, Groupon’s CEO, isn’t about to let the world think that the while thing was entirely their fault. In fact, he appears quite happy to paint Groupon’s ad agency, Crispin, Porter + Bogusky (CP+B) as the culprit while acting as if Groupon was just too trusting rather than complicit in the ads.

AdAge reports

After defending controversial Super Bowl ads created with CP&B, Groupon CEO Andrew Mason is now blaming CP&B and himself for trusting it as an ad partner.

In a Bloomberg BusinessWeek profile last week, which noted Groupon has stopped working with CP&B, Mr. Mason said he placed too much trust in the agency “to be edgy, informative and entertaining, and we turned off the part of our brain where we should have made our own decisions. We learned that you can’t rely on anyone else to control and maintain your own brand.”

Now, that sounds like “we got sold a bill of goods” talk that is looking to take the blame away from Groupon and pushing it back on the agency. In fact, Mason implies that Groupon fired the agency which appears to be at odds with a little thing people in the industry like to call the truth. CP+B’s response?

That about-face and, more bitingly, the underlying assertion that it fired CP&B, is riling some execs at the MDC Partners’ crown jewel, which by some estimates accounts for more than one-third of the holding company’s revenue. For one thing, people familiar with the situation say the agency’s contract with Groupon was only through Feb. 28, and it’s disingenuous to say CP&B was dismissed. Groupon’s TV schedule has run its course and no further ads are planned, a Groupon spokeswoman said.

Groupon wouldn’t be the first company to push blame back on their agency but let’s face it, if Groupon were paying attention to reality rather than being blinded by “Super Bowl Ad-itis” they could have stopped this from happening. To go back and act like they were just kids who took their eye off the ball to be bamboozled by the big, bad ad agency is silly.

The AdAge write up goes on to explain some more detail but the takeaway I get is something that seems to be more thematic with today’s big companies run by younger executives. Mason’s actions seem eerily similar to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s take on mistakes, which is essentially using the “Oh that’s wrong? Really? I’m so sorry” approach. Have you ever felt that Zuckerberg is truly sorry about anything he has ever done?

This kind of corporate behavior in public sheds light on what is likely going on behind the scenes. We have been played by Facebook enough to know that they know exactly what they are trying to get away with and how it often borders the line of good taste and strong ethics. If anyone is ever suckered by a Mark Zuckerberg hurt puppy dog look apology for anything moving forward then they are just not very bright.

Now Groupon CEO Mason is taking the same approach with their business and it could be a red flag. Culture is a trickle down thing in organizations. If there are questionable tactics happening at the top you can be guaranteed that the culture of the organization will reflect that. If Groupon is going to be the ‘we’re never truly at fault, it’s always the other guy’ type company just imagine how that plays out with customers who have been sold a ‘deal’ that isn’t in their best interest.

Aggressive closing sales teams aren’t born from people who have the best interest of their clients at heart. They are born from the need to get money in the door regardless of the price to another. Groupon’s culture is like that and it can make some wonder just what is going on with this multi-billion dollar juggernaut from virtually nowhere.

I bring up this possibility as a warning and nothing else. I have no basis for an accusation other than observed behavior. What I see thus far from Groupn’s c-suite isn’t the stuff of “I should trust this guy.” I think a healthy serving of caution would be advised to anyone who is thinking about ‘dealing’ with Groupon.

Your take?

  • Dear Groupon,
    Didn’t you approve the spot?

    Don’t blame the agency.. you approved it.. Andrew Mason

  • The Ad was tasteless,

    But reading about Mason’s Bio (TIME) – He never claimed to be Uber CEO material from the beginning (He was a musician, who found his calling in code). Just like I would trust my mechanic to work on my car. I can imagine some people know very little about cars. Does that mean you automatically hire a second mechanic when you get while your car is being repaired, or show up and question every move your mechanic makes?
    (You must be really paranoid!)

    Somebody at Groupon trusted the AD Agency to know what they were doing for the Superbowl. Why should Mason know about focus tests and branding exercises and Superbowl link love?, That’s suppose to be the agencies job! Most business owners are way to busy to be involved over the details, that’s why they hire outside expertise, they have a business to run.

    I think the two issues are separate. Groupon may be really good at selling Coupons, but they made a bad choice with the marketing department choosing the wrong team. But most of the blame does rest with the agency. Same as the blame for choosing a lousy mechanic rests with the mechanic not the customer.

    Most of the readers here are all in marketing we already assume (Bias) a minimum level of marketing understanding. Sorry but I’ve met people who wouldn’t know a USP if it was staring right at them. That’s not a bad thing. That’s just the way it is. We all like to imagine that people on top have some semblance of understanding…Well they don’t.


  • Really? Groupon just dug the corpse of their PR nightmare out of its grave, hung it up on hooks and fishing wire, and made it dance.

    Their non-apology was dumb enough. “We’re sorry. These are causes we feel strongly about and donate our money to” would have been a much better way to summarize the whole mess. That could have been a very appealing press release if they hadn’t covered up their best traits with their own ineptitude.

    Now, it could all be over. Instead, they are failing to cover up the accidental cover-up of them supporting positive causes by blaming someone else.

    I hope they can get Mel Brooks to do their commercials next year. It would be one of the few ways to make their campaign more offensive, self-parodying and comical.